An alleged plan by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s allies to hand him a third term in office has met fresh opposition after 23 civil society organisations — including that of eminent persons and the national council of elders — signed a petition against it.
In a letter signed by Civil Society Organisation Forum (FORSC) chair Vital Nshimirimana, the petitioners told the president they were “convinced that the best reward you can give to Burundians who trusted you is to refrain from seeking a third term” so as to prevent unrest that could result from the violation of the Burundi Constitution and the Arusha Accord.
Mr Nshimirimana said there was a campaign within the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party to nominate the incumbent as its candidate for the 2015 presidential election.
President Nkurunziza has not declared his candidature in the June election but a spokesman was quoted as saying last week that the leader intends to run. The government has not commented on or replied to Mr Nshimirimana’s letter.
Mr Nshimirimana told The EastAfrican that a citizen’s campaign against the third term will be launched soon and is expected to involve more than 304 organisations.
FORSC is a platform of 150 civil society organisations that is funded by the European Union and USAid. Influential in lobbying, it played a key role in preventing amendment of the Constitution.
The US is among the countries that have advised against the third term bid, saying it could lead to political instability in the country.
The East African Community has stayed away from the debate, having not even commented on the incumbent’s eligibility to run for the controversial third term.
National, not regional issue
“The eligibility of the president to run should be handled as a national, not regional, issue but the EAC will ensure the election is fair and peaceful,” EAC Secretary-General Dr Richard Sezibera said in Bujumbura recently. This came after President Nkurunziza said that it is CNDD-FDD that will decide whether he will be its candidate.
Critics have accused CNDD-FDD of deliberately delaying its congress, at which it will name its flagbearer. The congress was expected in January but CNDD-FDD chairman Pascal Nyabenda recently said that even he did not know when it will be held.
At the communal and provincial congresses last year, some members denounced the possibility of the president’s candidature. Former senator and CNDD-FDD member Richard Nimbesha recently called upon the president not to run again because he has completed his constitutional two terms.
“Soon there will be the CNDD-FDD congress; we will choose the successor of Peter Nkurunziza,” Mr Nimbesha declared, adding that President Nkurunziza should not betray Burundians and his God by going against the Eighth Commandment, which prohibits people from lying.
“He has spent two terms as a president; that’s the truth.”
There has been growing concerns by human-rights activists in the country. Last month, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) asked the government to ensure that state agencies cease attacks against human-rights defenders.
This came after the release of a report by EHAHRDP showing the high risk human rights defenders in Burundi are facing.
Before leaving last week for the EAC heads of state summit in Nairobi, President Nkurunziza made several decrees, among them the replacement of several top National Intelligence Service officials, who included the director-general, Maj-Gen Godefroid Niyombare.